Hello, everyone — meet Tim Ferriss. You might know him from that time he set the Guinness World Record for the most consecutive tango spins in one minute on Live With Regis and Kelly. No? Well, how about for that time he won the USAWKF national Chinese kickboxing championship in '99? Okay, maybe not your thing. Are you into, y'know, the Internet? Well, he's been an angel investor or adviser to StumbleUpon, Posterous, Evernote, Shopify, Reputation Defender, and many more. Not into business? Fine. You know, he once had a show on The History Channel, but maybe TV doesn't impress you. Okay, how about this — in 2008, Wired magazine dubbed him, "Greatest Self-Promoter of All Time." Interested yet?
Damn straight you are.
Tim Ferriss is what we used to call a polymath, a jack-of-all-trades, and an autodidact, before James Franco came along and ruined it all for everyone. From business to fitness to dance to, well, pretty much everything, Ferriss has a peculiar and very useful knack for breaking any particular task or discipline down to its basics, finding out what makes people good at it, and distilling that into a formula for near-instant mastery. Using a bit of logic and quite a lot of gumption, he's hacked and cracked new martial arts, foreign languages, the modern workweek, and, hell, he's even reinvented publishing.
In this same way, he's hacked authorship. His The 4-Hour Workweek attacked our common notions of productivity, cementing a philosophy of less (time) is more (output), selling over a million copies, and winding up in the library of every TED-Talks-watching new economy striver. His The 4-Hour Body didn't do so bad either. Again, Ferriss broke down the mistakes most people tend to make in exercising, focused in on what successful people do, and created a path to MObama arms that didn't involve years at the gym. Both have made this expert dancer, kickboxer, and self-promoter a certified best-selling author and sought-after speaker, host, and blogger with a legion of life-hacking followers.
Oh, and on top of all that, he's got a new cookbook.
Photo: Courtesy Timothy Ferriss
The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking Like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life is a mix of cutting techniques, recipes, and basketball tips that, while nominally a cookbook, is somewhat more exhaustive, fun, and informative than anything Rachael Ray has put her name to. "It's a 'guide to the good life,'" he says, "Cooking and good food is absolutely key to the good life, and so are the things that come along with it: friends, family, stimulating conversation, sustainable relationship with nature, new experiences. I wanted to use cooking as a metaphor for all learning in the book and, hopefully, set people off on their own path with new skills." Indeed, readers will not only collect knowledge on how to make an excellent seafood salad, cook a stake, and brew the perfect cup of coffee, but also learn how to make "mojito balls," dance the tango, and capture, kill, and prepare pigeons ("street quail" he calls them.)
"First, I spent years studying under some of the greatest chefs on earth," he says, "But this isn't a book of recipes; it's a new way of approaching and thinking about food and cooking from the people who have truly changed the game. Second, having a background in cooking is a plus. I focus on techniques and tools that accelerate your learning, wherever you're starting on the curve. The idea of the book is how to do more with less, and if you've got a head start, that's even better." Something we could all use, particularly around holiday time.
Now, lest you be intimidated by the idea of hunting pigeons, kickboxing, and the sheer Tim-Ferrissness of Tim Ferriss, we can tell you that this book is very much something all you takeout addicts can embrace. In fact, Ferriss himself was useless in the kitchen not so long ago. "Frankly, I was intimidated by cooking. It wasn't something that came naturally, and so, I tried to avoid it at all costs. When we do that about big parts of our lives, whether it's work or exercise, it's usually not our fault. There is something wrong with our approach. After all, millions of people love cooking and do it willingly. What I found is that myself and many others were introduced to cooking the wrong way, and I think this book will give you access to a wonderful creative and fulfilling experience that sticks instead of discourages." Nice, right? Exactly the sort of guy you'd want teaching you how to chop and braise.
Now, of course, following all those chefs in all those kitchens for all that time made Ferriss a bit of a restaurant-industry insider. As well, he's never been a stranger to the best bars in town. That's why in what must be one of the most wide-ranging and colorful appendixes ever, he offers his tips on how to be a VIP wherever you go (which, let's be honest, is why you clicked on this post). As you'll see, he's funny, insightful, and makes becoming the maître d's favorite face a whole lot easier and faster than you'd ever thought it would be.
Click on for Ferriss' VIP tips.
Photos: Photographed by Penny De Los Santos; Photographed by Daniel Krieger
How To Become A Vip (And Other Tips)
There is always one person who rolls up to the hottest joint in town and immediately gets a table, a handshake from the maître d', and the fastest service. But how?
Unless you’re a celebrity, and sometimes even then, you’ll need to earn it. That’s why this is called “How to Become a VIP” and not “How to Be Treated Like a VIP.” In fact, I dislike the term VIP altogether and suggest a more accurate replacement: most favored customer (MFC)
Rest assured, there are shortcuts to reaching this coveted status. Below are tips from chefs and restaurant managers in NYC, as well as lessons I learned during my own research. If you’re going to eat out, you might as well do it right.
Pick and choose as you like:
The To-Do List:
• Go from Tuesday to Thursday. That’s when restaurants cater to the foodies and experiment with their menus. For the money-making days (Friday to Sunday), they stick to the majority- pleasing safe bets.
• Focus on density. For you to become an MFC, restaurants have to first remember your name, so help ’em out. If possible, go for both lunch and dinner two or three nights in a row. Try everything on the menu. That will get attention. Becoming a lunch regular is a good investment and one of the shortcuts to MFC.
• Use industry lingo. If they ask “Table for two?” or “Table for four?” you can respond with “Yep. Any two top [two-seater] is fine” or “You got it. Do you have a four top [table for four] toward the back?”
• Order two dishes at your first visit. Will Schwalbe, while editor in chief of Hyperion Books, edited many of the biggest names in chefdom. He’s now founder of cookstr.com and still follows advice he received long ago. In his words: “Ask your ￼server to ask the chef two questions: First, ‘What does everyone order?’ and second, ‘What does almost no one order that you think everyone should?’ Then order both. Chefs want to show off their popular dishes but often have an item on the menu they’re really proud of, and really want people to try. I first did this at the Slanted Door in San Francisco. A cook actually came out to say hello because he thought it was so unusual.”
• For your first two or three visits, sit at the bar, if possible. The bartender is your best friend and is beloved by all staff (can you say after-hours “shift drinks”?). If the restaurant isn’t slammed, and after you’ve had a bunch of dishes, ask the bartender if you can thank the GM (general manager), chef, or owner, indicating that you don’t want to interrupt them if they’re too busy. Keep it short, big fella. Also, IMPORTANT: Leave a cash tip for your bartender, even if you transfer the bill to a table.
• For dinners, ask if you can be seated at or near “the pass,” where the final plating is done before dishes go to tables. This might also take the form of a “chef’s window/table/bar,” so feel free to ask for it. Don’t interrupt the chef, but go ahead and ask smart questions about the preparation of your dishes if a cook starts the conversation.
• If you’ve built rapport, politely ask your server if you can get a quick tour of the kitchen or a peek behind the scenes after dinner. Say that you admire the work of cooks and would love to see what they’re able to accomplish in their kitchen.
• Ask your server smart questions about the food. He or she may think you’re a fellow server (which earns bonus points) or a reviewer (ditto). Doing work on a notepad during your meal, especially if you’re at a fancier place, also raises eyebrows. When you start to get asked, “Are you in the industry?” your service will take a quantum leap, and you might eventually get labeled “super soigné” (pronounced “swan-yay”), or VIP, in the restaurant booking system.
• Don’t tip dumbly. While undertipping is a no-no, the value of overtipping is overestimated. Tipping 40% once every few weeks won’t make you an MFC. C’mon, you wouldn’t be that easily bought, and neither will they. Tip at least 20% at all times. If the service sucks, and you feel 20% is too much, why the hell do you want to eat there in the first place? Last, if you have an outstanding experience, tip the maître d’ or host/hostess. In most places, a discreet $20 in the hand for a parting handshake will go miles. DO NOT do this on the way in, young gun. That’s a novice flub.
• If you become a regular and get to know more about the chef, consider bringing him or her a small gift relevant to his or her interests. I’m not kidding. It works for most humans, and it’s a nice gesture to the person making your food. This stuff isn’t rocket surgery, folks.
The Not To-Do List:
• Don’t eat Sunday buffets, which are sometimes used to get rid of food that hasn’t sold during the week.
• Don’t order just before closing time. The kitchen staff doesn’t like this any more than you’d like 60 minutes of surprise overtime.
•Do not roll up with a “Do you know who I am?” vibe. That’s for DBs, which doesn’t stand for databases. Asking if so-and-so is working tonight is as far as name-dropping should go.
• Do not treat servers like lackeys if you want to be treated like a VIP. If you want to be treated like a VIP, treat all staff like they’re VIPs.
Excerpted from “The 4-Hour Chef: The Simple Path to Cooking like a Pro, Learning Anything, and Living the Good Life” by Timothy Ferriss. ©2012 by Timothy Ferriss. Published by Amazon Publishing/New Harvest November 2012. All Rights Reserved.
Photo: Courtesy Timothy Ferriss